Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Bowden: Braves Still Kicking Tires on Premium Pitching

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Max Scherzer, AL Cy Guy.  Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

 

FauxFrankWren is a consistent friend of the team – and I believe his source on this was Jim Bowden’s show on the XM MLB Radio Network channel.  But honestly, whether that assessment is correct and/or while this sounds like an exciting bit of news, it should honestly come as no real surprise to anyone:  Yes, Frank Wren makes calls all the time.  Most do not pan out in any fundamental way.  Some merely express interest in players so that his counterparts on other teams are aware that the Braves could be in the market should they opt to move someone.  Others may be total shots in the dark, hoping for a hit.  But then, just a year ago this week and after months of speculation, Wren and Kevin Towers got together quickly on a deal that sent Martin Prado (et al) to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.

I believe this information lies somewhere in the middle.

As an ex-General Manager, Bowden certainly knows that there are calls made that are relatively meaningless.  That’s not newsworthy.  The notion that specific teams are making calls that are pointing in a consistent direction – like frontline starting pitching - that’s newsworthy… particularly at this date.  So this tells me that the Braves are actually continuing to check in — at least — with teams about the best starting arms that may be out there… in addition to looking at the best free agent arm that is also out there.  It also suggests to me that perhaps earlier offers are being revised and renewed since there would be little point in revisiting prior conversations unless something has changed.

 

A Review of the Scenarios

So there are three pitchers mentioned.   Let’s look at each one in turn… including the one fascinating scenario that could be spun.

David Price. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

DAVID PRICE.  Okay, we’ve already talked about him.  A lot.  Here’s the refresher:

  • He has 2 years of “team control” remaining.
  • His arbitration estimate is $13.1 million for 2014.  Figure around $16-17m in 2015, given a ‘normal’ year for him.
  • He has a contract clause that requires his team to pay him $4m in deferred monies from his 2013 deal, payable on October 1st.
  • That’s too rich for Tampa Bay’s druthers – and the optimum time to trade him is clearly right now… regardless of the posturing statements coming from Andrew Friedman.
  • That said, the Rays are nothing if not ‘patient’, and a trade for Price should bring the largest return of players to Tampa Bay, though their needs are not terribly clear.

Scenario:  Atlanta would have to overwhelm the Rays with bodies, given that they don’t have many “top shelf” prospects and even fewer that they would be willing to part with.  One name I keep coming back to is Joey Terdoslavich, though clearly he would be only one of many that would have to be dealt.  The Braves don’t really have the $17 million of payroll space currently available, though they are still trying to find somebody – anybody – with interest in taking some of Dan Uggla‘s salary.  The Rays would certainly have some immediate interest if the Atlanta would include #1 prospect Lucas Sims, though at this point he has been considered an ‘untouchable’.

Let’s also look at the point in going after Price.  Yes, there is the notion of having two years of control.  But then again, there’s also the possibility of trying to get him to sign for the longer term.  Price is from Murfreesboro, TN – just down the Interstate from Nashville.  While there was the famous declaration from his agent that he would not entertain the idea of a long-term deal from Seattle (originally the obvious trade candidate), he would consider such a deal from unspecified other clubs.  You’d have to think that Atlanta might be one of those, at least based on geography.

Now would Frank Wren (um, the real one) consider selling off Lucas Sims for David Price if he knew that he could get Price for 4-to-6 years instead of just 2?  Certainly he’d have to consider that, for the idea of having a more proven Major League commodity in Price would have to outweigh the risk in continuing to develop Sims over the next 2 years before he could be ML-ready.  There’s also that old mantra:  “there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect” since many (my own research suggests 60%) of even the really good prospects never become productive major leaguers.

Also this:  would Tampa Bay be willing to open an extension-talks window as part of a trade deal?  Sure they would… if they knew that could get them the kind of players back that they want.  Already it’s clear that Seattle is unwilling to part with their best prospects – the ones that everybody thought they would offer.  Now it’s a game of chicken:  does Tampa Bay make a deal soon or do they wait to learn the fate of the next guy on our list tonight (Masahiro Tanaka).  My bet is that they wait.

 

Rakuten Golden Eagles president Yozo Tachibana (right) walks through the lobby during the MLB Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

MASAHIRO TANAKA.  (That’s not his picture at right — the guy in the black jacket is actually Tanaka’s current boss… the one screwed out of a lot of additional posting fees by his fellow team Presidents in Japan thanks to the new posting agreement).  Fred Owens wrote about this Japanese League star just a week ago.  Jeff Schafer then wrote about the workload concerns being expressed about him career thus far.  Here’s my take on what’s going on right now with Tanaka:

  • Teams are still on the prowl for him.  Strongly so.  Biggest suitors:  Seattle, Arizona, Los Angeles (both of them), the Yankees, and the Cubs.
  • Others could swoop in:  Detroit in particular, plus…. Atlanta??
  • At this point the bids are being formulated.  That ‘workload’ topic is going to be… interesting.
  • Don’t forget, his current team (Ratuken) is going to get $20 million from the winning bidder in this auction.  But it costs nothing to participate – only if you ‘win’.

Scenario:  I honestly don’t expect Atlanta to make a serious play here.  That would happen only if everyone else concerned low-balls the bids under the fear of arm failure and if the Braves decide to throw caution to the wind and swoop in for the kill.  I still expect him to get a 4-6 year deal for something around $17-20 million per year because there are so many teams bidding.  If agent Casey Close is getting a lot of ‘low-ball’ offers, though, he could opt for a 3-4 year deal to prove that his client is fully healthy and ready for the rigors of a MLB schedule of pitching every 5th day.  Nice if that plan were to actually work.  Then again, that kind of a plan didn’t work out very well for Tsuyoshi Wada and the Orioles.

If Atlanta were to get serious about this, they you’d have to look at the David Price salary numbers ($17 million total for 2014; roughly the same for 2015) and conclude that Tanaka is actually the cheaper option, given that they could hold on to all of their precious prospects.  Additionally, the team’s CEO (Terry McGuirk) has been quoted occasionally as saying that while there is a payroll guideline, this isn’t a hindrance for specific, special players (yes, that principle would apply to all three of the guys we’re talking about here).

But there is another possibility.  Let’s say that the Detroit Tigers – flush with extra cash after their off-season deals – jump in and sign Tanaka.  Now they would have excess pitching.  That may suddenly leave room for Atlanta to acquire…

 

MAX SCHERZER.  Yes, there have been rumors this off-season about his fate with Detroit, despite being the reigning AL CY Young award winner.  But Detroit actually should be motivated to consider moving him as well:

  • Only one year of control left
  • Scott Boras client, so he will undoubtedly be testing free agency
  • Given his 2013 season, it’s a definite “sell high” situation for Detroit
  • He’s about to get a big raise (from $6.7 million to perhaps $13.6 million), and this just as Detroit was clearing payroll

Scenario:  while a 1-year rental guy like Scherzer doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, he actually could be okay… for the right price in prospects going back to Detroit.  First off, he’s going to be cheaper to pay than either Price or Tanaka, there’s no long-term commitment, and he would almost certainly be granted the dreaded Qualifying Offer at years’ end, which would get Atlanta a semi-first round draft pick in June 2015.  Despite the ‘sell high’ problem, Scherzer would not command the kind of deal that Tampa Bay wants for David Price and his two years of control.  It’s exactly for these same reasons that Detroit is rightly reluctant to trade him today, but if Tanaka were to become their property, then that could change quickly.

____________

That’s the (much) fuller explanation of what I think is being indicated by that intriguing tweet above… it could easily all be just smoke, but a lot of fires erupt from small sparks.  So maybe Frank Wren didn’t lie after all?

Stay warm on that Hot Stove, y’all:  it’s cold out there.  6 weeks to Spring Training.

 

 

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